The “stone house on the hill” from last month’s column sits on the campus of the Marie Katzenbach School for the Deaf — another institution worthy of consideration.
A little background: Similar to the mistreatment of the mentally ill, the deaf were also commonly mistreated and misunderstood for centuries. Wrongly believing that speech directly represented the ability to think, Aristotle was said to have written that the deaf were incapable of reason. They were not permitted to own property, engage in contracts or write a will. They were cast among the fringe of society, often relegated to poorhouses and madhouses.
But slowly change came to that mindset, and the recognition that the deaf were affected only by their inability to hear. First in Europe, and then in America, books were written on deaf education, and schools were set up in the states to teach the deaf to read and write, to instruct them in hand and finger alphabets, sign language and lip reading, and to bring them into society.
Eventually the New Jersey Legislature followed suit. In 1821, money was appropriated to support the education of the deaf. Students were sent to specialized educational institutions in New York and Pennsylvania. In 1832, money was appropriated to fund a New Jersey state institution to educate the deaf, while also continuing to send students to neighboring states.
By 1882, an act of the legislature founded the “N.J. State Institution for the Deaf and Dumb.” The school was housed in a two-story, brick building at Chestnut and Hamilton avenues in Trenton, which had formerly been the Soldiers’ Children’s Home of N.J., housing orphans of Civil War soldiers. A board of trustees was also created to manage and direct the institution. In October of 1883, after a superintendent had been chosen, deaf pupils from around the state began to receive an education at the institution.
Within 10 years, the administration of the institution was transferred to the N.J. State Board of Education, and later the state Department of Education. In 1900, its name was changed to the New Jersey School for the Deaf. Two decades later, the school moved from Trenton to West Trenton, on land purchased by the state, and which included the Cooley Farmhouse. The primary school opened in West Trenton in 1923, and the middle and upper schools opened a few years later. The Cooley house became the Superintendent’s Home, and served as such for decades.
In 1965, the school was renamed the Marie H. Katzenbach School for the deaf, to honor a long-time advocate for the deaf, and her commitment to the school and its students as a State Board of Education member for more than four decades. In 1991, the school appointed Dr. Gertrude Galloway as superintendent of the school, the first deaf woman appointed as superintendent of a residential deaf school in the U.S. It is people like Katzenbach and Galloway, and the many before them, who have thankfully changed society’s attitude towards the deaf.
The Katzenbach School remains a highly-regarded school which serves deaf and hard-of-hearing students from birth to 21 years of age, and “recognizes that deaf children can do anything that hearing children can do.” In an environment of open communication, students receive individualized instruction and attention within small classes, are academically encouraged to the highest levels of achievement, and are additionally instructed in a variety of vocational offerings, both on campus and off. Students have access to a variety of support services, the latest in technology, and are well-prepared to become an active and vital part of the larger community.
Ewing is proud to be the home of such a fine institution, and to show how wrong Aristotle was!
Special thanks to Phyllis Sparks, curator of the Museum at the Katzenbach School for the Deaf, and the MKSD website, for assistance with this column.